October 14, 2013

10-20-30 (Or 30-20-10) Interval Training

Three out of three formidable German women suggest you do 10-20-30's

So, what starts off slowly, then gets more uncomfortable, then downright painful, then proceeds to repeat itself over and over and over 'til you want to puke?

Why yes, it's a Cranky Fitness blog post!

But this also describes the exercise I love to hate, high intensity interval training, or HIIT. And there's a newish variation, getting all kinds of rave reviews of late, called the "10-20-30."

Curious about the why's, how's, when's, whether's, and whatevers? Let's check out this puppy out.

What is a 10-20-30?


Here's how it goes:

1. First you warm up.

2. Then you jog for 30 seconds, at a leisurely 30% of maximal intensity. Then you go 20 seconds at "training pace" of about 60% of your maximum. Then finally, you crank it up and bust your ass and go all out, over 90% of maximum, for 10 seconds. Repeat this minute-long cycle continuously 5 times.

That's "one."  (Even though it's really five).

3. Then, you go back to nice slow jogging for two minutes (120 lovely recovery seconds).

4. Repeat the above series 3 more times.

(And you don't have to start with 4 sets, you can work up to that many over time).

So to review:  4 x (5 x (30/20/10)) + 120)  = You Are Done.


Note: these should really be called 30-20-10's, right, since that's the order you go in? Whatever.

Why are people so excited about 10-20-30's?


This protocol came from a study out of Copenhagen that took "moderately trained" runners and had half of them do their normal workouts, while the other half spent half the time and instead did a series of these 10-20-30 intervals. After 7 weeks, the runners who did the intervals raised their Vo2 max by 4%, and got noticeably faster.  They also lowered their systolic blood pressure as well as their total and LDL cholesterol.

So, there were some impressive health benefits in already fit runners by doing sprints as short as 10 seconds.

The Peak Performance column at Runner's World describes it as "a controlled 'fartlek' workout, but with more rigor." Which I mention because, well, it's always fun to sneak in a gratuitious 'fartlek' reference.

Is it Magic?

Nah, as The Science of Running points out, any time you introduce anaerobic interval training to runners who've just been doing steady state running, there are impressive speed and physiological gains.

In fact, according to Runner's World Sweat Science column, recent research suggests the optimal duration for high intensity intervals may 3-5 minutes, not 10 measly seconds.

And there are many, many other protocols out there for introducing anaerobic interval training to your routine.   (Including my personal favorite, because I think it's better to do some kinda SHIIT than nothing at all).  The notion that the 10-20-30 is some sort of "perfect" or "ultimate" interval system is kinds goofy, yet some magazine articles are hyping it that way.

Wait, So if it's Not Magic, Why Bother?

Well, because duh, 3-5 minute intervals are serious torture if you are really trying to crank up to your max!  In fact, in choosing the studies to review, the researchers only included those with participants who were under 45 years old.  No old farts like me allowed!  And they noted that with the more rigorous 5 minute protocols, subjects were not exactly enthusiastic about continuing to train that way once the study was over. It apparently SUCKED to have to go through it.

So the fact that one can get significant benefits from doing 10 second sprints is encouraging.

Thoughts and Tips About 10-20-30 Intervals


So I've been playing with 30-20-10 intervals for the last few weeks, and here are some impressions.

Of course it wasn't until I decided to write this up that I realized I've been doing them wrong.  So, tip #1 would probably be "Try reading the directions first."

But actually I've been doing them "wrong" in a kinda good way: I've been approaching the 20 second "training pace" segment as an anaerobic interval in itself, just a slightly less intense one than an all-out sprint.  By the time the 20 seconds is up, I feel like I can barely keep going, so cranking things up even higher is difficult--but the beauty of these things is: 10 seconds is not a very long time to max out.

Which leads to my major takeaway: psychologically, this is a pretty awesome interval protocol. When I attempt longer intervals of several minutes, I can only do about 4 before I think, f--ck it, I've had enough.

But the fact that the "all out" phase is only 10 seconds makes it possible for me to do 20 of them, which, for a whiny slacker, is great progress.

However, these are still high intensity intervals, and as such there are unpleasant aspects to deal with.



Which leads to a few more suggestions, some directed to myself as much as anyone:

If you are not already in reasonably good shape, don't do these. You need a good solid cardiovascular foundation, and need to be strong and flexible and stable before playing with intervals or you may injure or kill yourself. Which is kind of a shitty reward for such a virtuous and challenging pursuit.

And keep safety in mind: If you are using treadmill to do intervals, sprinting at all out speeds when you're tired can be really freakin' dangerous.  Do you really want to be that over confidant ass we've seen on Youtube who tries to go too fast and trips and stumbles and goes flying off the back in to a writhing, moaning, ignominious heap of humiliation?

I tend to do these on an incline ranging from 7-9%, so my speed doesn't have to be very high to get myself to my max. I may still someday fly off the back if I'm not careful, but I think I'm less likely to trip at slower speeds, and I'm hoping it will be a slower, less catastrophic disembarkation than were I flying along at high velocity.

Note: treadmills can take a few seconds to respond to your commands, but they generally have nice big timers right in front of you, so it's not that big a deal.  You can just do the speed/incline adjustments 5 or so seconds before and/or run a few seconds over to make sure you get at least a 10 second maximum type effort.

Mix Up the Methods:   Once the novelty of any interval system wears off, you are left with a huge motivational challenge. For most of us, there is a unconscious but effective self-preservation mechanism that will kick in to keep you uninspired and demotivated.

Why is this? Well, my theory is: your caveman brain does not see any reason for you to voluntarily overexert yourself when you might need your maximum capacity for other things. If it senses what you are up to when you grab that interval timer, it's going to try to derail you.

It figures: if you are being chased by a large fanged animal? THEN you can have all the motivational chemicals you need to get your ass up to your Vo2 max. Your body will pump out adrenaline or whatever in sufficient quantities and you won't have any trouble finding the inspiration to keep going.

Alas, keeping your interval routine fresh and novel is not going to give you quite the same kick in the pants that impending death would, but it will help.

I've done 30-20-10's successfully on the treadmill and elliptical, but I'm already starting to face a certain amount of reluctance.  So I'm also wanting to get out outside on a track or other reasonably smooth nonhazardous running surface.  I may also try a spin bike, or even see if I can alternate a couple of godawful full body exercises.

Mix Up the Protocols:  10-20-30 is great! But there's no reason you can't alternate with longer intervals, or tabatas, or classes or dvds or other interval training systems.  (In fact, since I've been doing them wrong, I may take a step back and see what they are like with a less intense "20.")

And I think it's optimal to do some interval training, but also some endurance training, strength training, some balance and flexibility work, and of course some lovely long walks and "just fun" play sessions.  Unless you are some sort of competitive athlete or masochist, doing craploads of intervals seems counter-productive to mental and physical health.

What's the Payoff?

There are lots of health and strength and speed gains that I'm too lazy to dig up and repeat. But the reason I do HIIT?  Nothing makes you feel like more of a badass than going all out and pushing your limits now and then.  The smugness effect can last for hours or even days!

Do you guys do intervals or is does this all sound like crazy talk?

Photo Credits: Stamps: wikimedia; comic book cover: comics.wikia



45 comments:

  1. I love this type of training!!! Timed intensity intervals are some of my favorites - I haven't tried this exact method yet - but now it's gonna happen soon!!!

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    1. For you Kim, I'd recommend altering the protocol a bit... perhaps by carrying a school bus on your back the entire time. :)

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  2. I've never done much speed training with running. I've just done distance. I probably used cross training like the stairmaster or sports like basketball, etc for that.

    I'm good with HIIT. Doing something consistently is important!

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    1. Using sports for HIIT is an excellent idea Dr. J, where sprinting at least gets you some points!

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  3. The Smugness Effect is one of my favorite results of training (next to visible biceps, rawr). I was doing intervals up until last week on the treadmill, trying to move my ass into better running shape because I really like to run. I had to stop when a wrong step in our Thursday session produced a crunchy unhappy burning sensation in my lower back. Stupid old herniated disc was unhappy with the intervals, apparently, so I've had to lay off the running for now. I was very much enjoying that type of training, though, and it was paying off in endurance gains.

    I'll just have to be a strength ape for a while and get my cardio from the cycling, but as the weather turns crappier and we move to the stationary bike indoors, I can reintroduce intervals that way. I'll try out the 10-20-30 thing and see how it feels. Sweet info, Crabby!

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    1. Oh shoot about the herniated disc! Injuries are so not fair.

      But Heather the Strength Ape? I love it!

      Hmm, I have real trouble motivating to do strength training, perhaps if I shot for Strength Ape status, I'd get more serious. It's an oddly enviable title, I wanna be a Strength Ape too!

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    2. I know, seriously not fair. I was zooming along fine, and then it was like, "Hey, remember that time you said no to PT when the doc told you to do PT?" Dammit.

      Yes, you can be a Strength Ape, too! It has a variety of benefits, like Looking Even More Awesome and Being Able to Hurl Volkswagens at People Who Annoy You! Let's go! ;-D

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    3. Ooh, Volkswagen hurling sounds fun!! But dang Heather, I need you to come to my house and motivate my ape-itude, I've been strength-slacking. :(

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    4. Crap, signed in with wrong account, it be Crabby above. Obviously.

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    5. Ape-titude, hahahaha! Yes! You got it. Next time I'm out that way for work, I'll swing by and hassle you until you strength train. :-D

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  4. Im HIIT only because Ill do ANYTHING to GIIT the cardio doneandOVER quickly.

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    1. I think keeping up with the Tornado probably works pretty well for that purpose Miz! Know you are great at powering through things that need doing even if not your fave.

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  5. Hmmm. This whole entire (painful) blog post has me thinking that I need to try HIIPE: High Intensity Interval Pie Eating.
    This is where the REAL magic happens. Yes?

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    1. YES! Where can I sign up for HIIPE?! That would make me move my butt to 90+% of max.

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  6. I suppose to some level I do this...it happens naturally when one starts a hike in a super bad mood and goes much harder and faster than normal until you just finally give out.

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    1. Good for you QD if bad moods lead to max vo2! My sulking tends to be a bit more shuffley and lackadaisical. Though I'm lucky to be mostly insulated from seriously aggravating people and situations these days, knock wood...

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  7. Fascinating. It has nothing to do with me, but it was an interesting read. And I can find other things to be smug about.

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    1. Indeed you have MUCH to be smug about Leah! Things way more impressive than running full steam on machines going nowhere for no particular reason other than that it's hard. We fitness fans are sometimes a little unbalanced I think.

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  8. I'm glad you put the caveat about being in reasonably good shape before trying this - it's fun to do, but yeah, it can hurt if you're not quite *there* in your fitness levels.

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    1. Definitely Shelley! In fact, my balance is crap so I should probably heed my own advice and be more careful about it!

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  9. Intervals are great. The body gets used to anything that you do over and over, so yet another way to mix it up is a good thing.

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    1. "The body gets used to anything that you do over and over" is either an inspirational or a scary thought Messymimi! But so true.

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  10. I put those in the e-book. They were one of my favourites to do. Haven't done them for a while due to switching to distance for a while, but might need to revisit. Thanks for the remnder.

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    1. So much for my memory healthehelen, because I read and enjoyed your ebook and then apparently totally forgot about these intervals. Well, I also forget my phone number so there's that...

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  11. I've said it before: high intensity is highly painful, but it's also highly efficient! :-)

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  12. The Boss is a HIITman extraordinaire! He loves it and preaches it to anyone who will listen. I am not down with it as blowing a valve in public is not on my list of fun things to do.

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    1. Ah, come on Kimberley, misery, exhaustion, puking and eventual collapse don't sound fun? What's wrong with you? :)

      Nah, the real secret to intervals is in systems like this one where the agony is of such short duration that it's over before you quite grasp that you're experiencing it.

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    2. Sigh. That J Graham character sneaked in again, dang it.

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  13. Well it takes me 20 minutes to just get all the parts working properly without any creaking or poping noises, then I like to move into 30 minutes of mind numbing repetitive work and then we can consider a few minutes of high intensity before going back to trying to fix whatever parts are sticking. It's an interval system of sorts!

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    1. OK, now that is funny Cindy!

      But I can relate. Some boring day in the future I'm doing a post on the fact that I need SO much more warm up time than I ever used to and how much things still hurt for days afterwards. Gosh, bet readers CAN NOT WAIT!

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  14. Great post Jan! I do my own Jody workouts as you know.. :) I warm up & go into HIIT & Intervals 3 days in the gym. Some days are harder ones than others but they are all hard! :) Some days I do 2-3 minutes hard core back & forth & then do stuff before & after. Other days it is 4-5 minutes at "less hard" intervals with stuff before & after... I mix it up & have been changing it over time plus with age & listening to the bod, I change it up! :) It is hard & I can't say I like it but I do it! :) It is always a challenge!

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    1. That is so awesome Jody! I think 2 times a week is my max for intense intervals or I start getting all grumpy and resentful and will stop doing them entirely. I so admire your tenacity!

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  15. The short ones are fun compared to the endless (more than a couple of minutes) ones. I've done 30 seconds all-out on the bike over & over, but not recently. These Death Ride/endurance training sessions seem to require 25 minutes at moderate intensity - over and over. I read all these cool ideas and try to find ways to wedge them in. It would be really fun to run a little faster, too. Other than trying to get to the bus, I mean.

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    1. DRG, I bet with your determination you are really on fire when you go all out! I find even "short" 30 second all-out sprints to be incredibly grueling, and if you have done endless several-minute intervals, count yourself among the elite! Love that you're always trying to incorporate new ideas, I sometimes get a little lazy about experimenting. Except for perhaps new ice cream flavors or "natural" junk food from the health food store.

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  16. I have to try this workout routine! I hope it works on me as I am trying to lose some of the weight I gained over the past year. Good luck to me!

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  17. Sounds interesting, i'll have to try it out by myself to actually see if this really works for me well. I've heard about this kind of training before, but i've never tried this before.

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  18. For me, the Smugness Effect lasts for several months. Remember the time I tried tabatas on the elliptical? Maybe a year ago? I'm still going "Hey, I did that. Yay, me!" Feeling no need to do it again.

    The "lowering cholesterol" results made me think of someone I know who needs to lower hers--she has arthritis in her knees and feet so bad she's on prescription pain meds, so this approach is Right Out.

    Mary Anne in Kentucky

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    1. I think a Once a Year interval plan is quite sensible Mary Anne!

      And yeah, with arthritic knees intervals would be challenging, because it's hard to get the heart rate up without lower body involvement. But even less crazypants type exercise programs can help!

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  19. Loved your advice to Kim. ;) She's tough for a little thing - she probably could do it with a bus on her shoulders. :) I've missed reading your blog. Been so stupid busy. But I've been thinking about you! Hope all has been well!
    Gaye

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    1. All is great Gaye and have been missing you too!

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  20. Well, you know how they say, no pain, no gain. But you are very right,mixin as much as possible tends to keep things more interesting, especially if you have to look at the same old 4 walls while doing it.

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  21. that philosophy of life No Pain No Gain.. Find out four things you need to be doing as a mom, to reclaim your body and your health. Plus a simple trick for reducing stretch marks and tightening loose belly skin! http://l1nk.com/dry8pn

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  22. Interval training is very effective indeed. I also think it's a lot more fun to have shorter workouts yet with more variation which Interval training allows you to do. It keeps the workout from getting tedious!

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  23. 10-20-30 is really a great tip. I do agree with this tip. Thank you for sharing. This is a very nice article on exercise.

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